Christian Behavior



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How are Christians to behave toward other people?

The answer is not complicated, Jesus spells it out with some frequency, both by words and by actions: we are to love others.

First we are to love other Christians—as Christ does, which means sacrificially.

Second, we are to love our enemies, even do good to those who misuse and abuse us.

Third, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, which is, as a radio pastor pointed out today, something we don’t need to learn to do. By nature we protect ourselves and care for ourselves, unless a person has experienced great mistreatment and/or is mentally ill. One of the ways people cope with horrific circumstances is to pull within themselves and protect themselves. Of course we can be taught to hate ourselves, but even when that’s the case, we see people hiding this self-loathing under a cloak of pride and arrogance or in mistreatment of others. In truth, we by nature love ourselves, though there is a great group of believers who are chiming in, along with the world, saying that we need to learn to love ourselves. In fact, Jesus said we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves because loving ourselves is a given.

To illustrate loving a neighbor, Jesus told the story of the man who others assumed to be a racist. When a “good” priest and a “good” Levite, encountering a situation that had the potential of being dangerous or of rendering them unclean in the eyes of the Mosaic Law, they took detours to escape the possibility of jeopardy.

The man who had every reason to hate the Jews and avoid all contact, did the opposite. He went out of his way to help the stranger. Jesus called him a true neighbor.

Using that story, we’d have to define neighbor as someone with the means to help (time, resources, connections) who sees another in need. We’re a neighbor if we help.

I live in an area populated (if you can use that word here) by a number of homeless people. One day on my morning walk, I came across a women who was lying flat on her stomach at the edge of a (church) parking lot. Just lying there. I stepped closer to her, not sure initially if she was even alive. She moved, so I asked her if she needed anything. A blanket, she said. Not money or help or food. A blanket.

Yes, I had a blanket I could give her. I’m not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but I had more than one blanket, and an old one I wasn’t using. Did I turn around and go home to get it? No, I told her I’d pick it up after I finished my walk. That’s kind of the equivalent of the man in Jesus’s story telling the injured guy he’d be back for him later after he’d taken care of his business.

I’m ashamed that my reaction was first to look out for my own personal needs, but there it is.

It gets worse. Another day a fairly young guy with earbuds and flip flops, shorts and a tank top passed me and my friend on our walk. He stopped, came back, and asked if we had some money to give him. Uh, no, neither of us carry any money. But the thing that’s important for this post, is what was going on in my heart. A young, healthy guy, by all appearances, begging money off a couple women clearly his senior. I wanted to give him a swift kick. I immediately concluded he wanted money for his addiction, because obviously he could get a job and earn a living if he wanted to. Mind you, I don’t know this guy and have no idea what his story was. Sort of like the man in Jesus’s story who didn’t know the guy lying in the road. I’m not saying I should have given this stranger in front of me any money (which I didn’t have and couldn’t have done), but I could have prayed for him instead of making assumptions about him, ugly assumptions. Peter said to the beggar at the Beautiful Gate, I don’t have any silver and gold, but what I have I’ll gladly give you. I have Jesus Christ in my life. Why didn’t I offer the stranger what I did have?

Well, I get tongue-tied, feel awkward, don’t know how to bring up the subject. I mean, he didn’t ask for the gospel. He asked for money. In response I simply told him I couldn’t give him what he wanted. But I could have given him what he needed.

OK, but I’m much better at writing than off-the-cuff conversations.

But how many times have I written comments and had to delete them because they were snide or snippy or rude or snarkish? Way more than I can count. I have to pray over comments and let the Holy Spirit guide my thoughts because my nature is to walk on by, or worse—to give a swift kick as I pass.

I’m pretty sure that God wants His followers to approach others with a heart of compassion. Instead of asking, “What’s in your wallet,” we should be asking ourselves, What’s in your heart?

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Published in: on July 29, 2019 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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About That Loving Your Neighbor Command


The Bible is really clear about how Christians—followers of Jesus Christ—are to treat our neighbors. Jesus broadened the command further by identifying our neighbor as the person we come across who is in need.

So love them. Give them what they need to reach a point in which they are no longer in need. Like the Good Samaritan did. He gave medical attention to the guy he came across who had been mugged. Further, he put the wounded guy on his own donkey, took him to a nearby inn and paid the man in charge to provide for the next layer of needs. I take that to be shelter and food and perhaps clothes. For how long? The Samaritan didn’t know, so he gave an open-ended promise. Whatever the innkeeper spent on the wounded man, above and beyond the money he’d already been paid, the Samaritan would cover the cost.

It’s a great story of selflessness and generosity and letting go of ethnic stereotypes. Of refusing to give in to prejudice.

But here’s what I’m thinking about. What if the Samaritan took him home instead of to an inn. What if the Jewish victim proved to be . . . difficult. What if he was unappreciative and demanding? What if he wanted to argue politics or religion? What if he was not someone the Samaritan liked?

More often than not, I think that’s our challenge today. We are fine if we can throw some money at a problem, as if our generosity equates with love. We forget that the Samaritan was committed to coming back, that he would be checking in on the wounded Jew, that his responsibility was more than a one-time donation.

We forget that he first took a risk. After all, he could have been walking into a trap. He set aside his own needs, even his religious ones—his interaction with the wounded man made him spiritually unclean, because it’s hard to imagine that he tended the man’s wounds without getting his hands a bit bloody and that maybe he’d be touching a dead body. Then there was the change in his plans. The delay, the inconvenience of walking while the Jewish man rode. The commitment to put him up and check in on him and to pay more if needed.

All this makes me aware that loving our neighbor requires some level of commitment, of interaction, of relationship.

Which brings me back to the question: what if our neighbor is someone we don’t like?

I don’t think our likes or dislikes change God’s command. We don’t get to say to God, Well, I’d love him if I liked him a little better, because You do know, He’s a Jew. Set aside for a moment that Jesus was also a Jew. The point is, He told that story particularly because love crossed the ethnic divide.

What if the Jewish man was cursing and complaining the whole way to the inn? What if he was demanding and simply had an irritating personality? Jesus doesn’t give us an out because someone is not easy to love. He simply says, love your neighbors.

So here’s what I think. Paul tells us that when we are weak, we are strong. Because when we are weak we turn to God and let Him give us the strength we need. My guess is, if a neighbor is hard to like, God will give us the strength to love them anyway, and maybe even to like them.

I’ve had that experience, more than once. When I was teaching, there were a few times that I had a student I didn’t really like. They were . . . annoying. But as soon as I realized I was having a hard time, I started praying. And in each instance, the student and I actually developed a close relationship by the time they moved on to another grade. In other words, God took my willingness to follow Him and my admission that I was weak and needed His strength, and He forged a better relationship than I could have ever imagined.

In truth, I would have been poorer if I had missed out, if I had let my likes and dislikes dictate who I loved or didn’t love.

God really knows what He’s talking about when He tells us to love our neighbors!

Published in: on March 4, 2019 at 5:48 pm  Comments (2)  
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A New Commandment


First I have to say how blessed I am because my church has an abundance of Bible-believing pastors who love God’s word and can communicate its truth.

So Sunday our executive pastor preached from a verse in John:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.(John 13:34)

He starts out by asking, Since Jesus said this was a new commandment, what was the old commandment?

That made me think. When someone asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment, He said, Love God, and a close second is love your neighbor as yourself.

We can logically conclude that since the New Commandment has to do with relationships on the horizontal plane—a human being with other human beings—the Old Commandment would have been the “love your neighbor as yourself” part.

As it stands, loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is a pretty demanding commandment. I mean we quite naturally take care of ourselves from birth. How many babies decide they’ll wait for breakfast until morning so their mom can get a good night of sleep? None! They are hungry, so they want to be fed.

Even the Yale baby studies reported on 60 Minutes some five years ago, admit to our natural love for us over others:

The youngest kids in the study will routinely choose to get fewer prizes for themselves just to get more than the other kid.

In other words, the Old Commandment was an admonition to bring others up to our status, to love them with the same kind of care that we provide for ourselves. Do we want to be first in line? Then we should also want our neighbor to be first in line. But what if there’s only one line, and we both need to be in it?

That’s where the New Commandment comes in: Jesus said we are to love other believers, not the way we love ourselves, but the way HE loves them. That would of necessity be self-sacrificially. In other words, I am willing to give up my place at the head of the line so that you can be first.

Well, that’s a bit shocking. But Jesus went on to say that this kind of sacrifice-love will set us apart from others, so much so that when this kind of sacrifice-love is observed, people will know: Yep, they are Christians.

One more cool thing from the message. In Colossians 3 Paul listed things Christians should “put on.” Seven of them:

put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other (vv 12b-13a)

Then Paul adds one more:

Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (v 14)

The ESV says it this way

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

That word for “binds” or “bond” also refers to ligaments. You know, the things that hold our bones together. So Pastor Jeff gave the illustration of a professional athlete who does these amazing things with his body—until he injures his ACL. Even the smallest tear in that ligament can shut down the athlete.

So Paul was saying that all the things the Christian should “wear” in his new life in Christ, is held in place by love. Kindness and humility and gentleness and forgiveness—all of it. Love holds them all together, helps them move in concert, as the ACL helps the parts of a knee function together.

And it is this love that will make Christians exhibit the New Commandment love Jesus was talking about.

One more vital thing. This kind of love doesn’t come from trying harder. It comes from the Holy Spirit. We need to allow Him to empower us, fill us, guide us. So if we want to love like Jesus told us to, we can’t accomplish that by deciding to do better. It actually comes from intentionally entering into a closer relationship with God. The more we know His heart, the less we will want to go our own way. Why should we hold a grudge against someone Jesus Christ loves so much He laid down His life to save him?

Christ died for him, but I’m going to remain angry because he was late and didn’t call? And is always late and never calls. As James says, “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (1:20)”

It seems unjust. He’s getting away with being a jerk! And all I’m supposed to do is love him?

Yes, love him, which means you are willing to confront someone if they need to learn ways to relate to others that would glorify God. Confronting people is uncomfortable. Loving people is complicated. It’s not all smiles and flowers. A lot of times it’s forgiving people while they’re yet sinners.

But that’s the New Commandment, the one that will let others know we are Christians.

Published in: on September 5, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments Off on A New Commandment  
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Who Is the Christian to Love?


A few years ago I had the embarrassing experience of getting kicked off someone’s blog. The irony was, I was trying to make the case that a Christian is to behave the way Christ called us to behave.

Sadly this was not my first experience of getting kicked off a blog for trying to convince the proprietor it was wrong to malign others. My error was to react by speaking the truth without love.

And yet the main thrust of my argument became this: God’s guiding principle for our relationships is love.

Yep, I who wanted to be faithful to Scripture did not follow Scripture in defending it.

I hope I don’t have to get kicked off any more blogs or withstand rancorous name-calling mockery before this lesson stays home.

Who is the Christian to love?

I’ll answer with another question. Who did Christ love?

  • “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son …” (Jn 3:16a)
  • “Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end (Jn 13:1).
  • “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35).
  • “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (Jn 14:21).
  • “but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me” (Jn14:31a).
  • “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love” (Jn 15:9)
  • “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:12-13).

If I did the same kind of study in the other gospels, I’d find Jesus’s instructions about loving our neighbor and loving our enemies, even those who persecute and mistreat us. I’d find stories that illustrate loving the lost, the wayward, the prodigal. I’d find Jesus’s own example of forgiving those who crucified Him.

Some people point to Jesus’s harsh words to the Pharisees as evidence that we are therefore allowed to speak harshly to false teachers. However, Jesus was concerned about the Pharisees’ spiritual state. He never spoke harshly to them because he didn’t like the color of their robes. He didn’t speak harshly to them because they had leprosy or were short or gave taxes to Caesar.

He reserved His wrathful actions and statements for their open disobedience to the Law (buying and selling in the temple), their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Jesus cast out demons by Satan’s power), and their hypocrisy (coming to be baptized without “bear[ing] fruit in keeping with repentance”).

I’m sure that’s not an exhaustive list, but here’s the point. Jesus was bold in calling sin, sin when it came to the people who thought they were without sin. But He lived a life of servanthood.

He gave the time of day to people who were pushed aside and disrespected by most of society. He also sought out the rich and powerful whose hearts were hungry for the Bread of Life. He wasn’t a respecter of persons.

He didn’t hesitate to tell Peter off when he was blowing it (Get behind me, Satan), but He didn’t stop loving him, didn’t stop serving him.

Who, then, is the Christian to love? I’m pretty convinced I’m to love whoever God brings across my path—in my physical world and in cyberspace. In real life the consensus seems to be that it is harder to love those we know best. In cyberspace it might be harder to love those faceless strangers with whom we disagree.

This post is an updated version of one that appeared here in August, 2010.

Published in: on August 7, 2018 at 5:23 pm  Comments Off on Who Is the Christian to Love?  
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Loving God Means What Exactly?


IconsMore than once I’ve heard or read people saying they love God but want nothing to do with religion. I can’t help wonder what those who hold this position mean when they say they love God.

Is loving God some kind of emotion we generate toward an icon, an idea, or even toward a person? I guess that question puts the focus on the main thing: what do people removing themselves from the constraints of organized religion mean when they say “God”?

I wonder if there is anything close to a consensus. I mean, without organized religion—people coming together in agreement—can’t “God” mean whatever a person wants? So God could be an impersonal force, like fate or destiny. Or God could be the Perfect or Enlightenment to which we all can strive. God could be nature or the universal good or a great pool of consciousness or a spark within each person or … well, you get the idea.

It seems to me, no one can love God unless they know Him. By definition, God is set apart as Other. So how can we know what is transcendent?

Sea_Goddess_of_MercyThe monotheist understands God to be supreme, the ruler, even the creator. Those of a pantheistic mind set see god in all things and all in god. In between are those who believe as the Greeks did or the Hindus do, that there are many gods, each needing to be kept happy in his or her own way.

With all these ideas floating about, how does someone come to an understanding of God?

One common approach I’ve heard is to say, To me, God is …

That approach strikes me as odd. We wouldn’t do that with any other person we know, and we criticize others if we think they are inventing things about someone else. In fact we even have slander and libel laws to punish people who make up harmful stuff about other individuals.

People do repeat false statements about celebrities and politicians, and we wrangle about lines like President Obama is a Muslim or Donald Trump is an idiot. Whether or not the public realizes it, they don’t arrive at these false ideas on their own. They’ve been fed those lines by a propagandist who wishes to influence public thought.

So too with God. Average people did not independently arrive at views such as, To me God is loving and would never care about a person’s sexual orientation; or, To me God is a cosmic force that put the world in motion; or, To me God is a divine spark in each of us. They’ve been fed these lines by an individual who “takes his stand on visions he has seen”—meaning, a spirit has put it in his head—or who is “inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (quotes from Col 2:18).

God, being God, can’t be known unless He discloses Himself. In virtually all the definitions of God, he is understood to exist “apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe” (Oxford American Dictionary). How, then, could people subject to those limitations study, grasp, comprehend, or know One who is outside the confines of our experiences and abilities? The only way to know God is if God would choose to disclose Himself to us.

And He has done precisely that.

So when it comes to loving God, the first and foremost definition of love, as I see it, is recognizing God to be who He says He is.

The online site LinkedIn allows individuals to endorse others with a click of the button. From time to time I get endorsed by people in subjects which don’t reflect what I do or who I am. I appreciate the fact that the endorser was thinking of me, but I also know the person doesn’t really know me or they wouldn’t have back-slapped me in an area in which I have no expertise.

God, of course, has unlimited expertise, but people who don’t know Him put limits on Him, essentially denying who He is. They’ll say He’s loving but not a just judge; He’s powerful but not powerful enough to create the world with a word; He’s good but not so good that the hard things could actually be part of His plan.

How can we get past our limitations? Only by accepting God’s revelation. He, like any artist, poured His heart, His personality, into what He made. So we can look around us at the world—the parts that Humankind hasn’t tainted—and draw conclusions about God. He’s beautiful. He’s interested in the smallest details. He’s cosmic. He’s orderly. He’s nurturing. And so many others.

In addition, He’s disclosed Himself directly to people and has had them pass on His messages to the rest of us. Ultimately He put on skin and became one of us to show us His heart.

Because God made it possible, we can know Him. To love Him means we accept Him for who He’s told us He is.

Loving God also means agreeing with Him. Disagreeing with God is just another way of not recognizing Him to be who He says He is. How could He truly be transcendent and wrong? or just and wrong? or good and wrong?

In short, anyone who loves God will want to do as He says. This, I believe, is a response of the will and not one of the emotions. The funny thing is, where the will goes, the emotions are sure to follow.

This post is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here in August 2013.

Published in: on July 26, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Comments Off on Loving God Means What Exactly?  
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Jesus, Facing Death


Jesus knew His time had arrived, not for a coronation but for a trial and an execution. But knowing what awaited Him, He still went into Jerusalem.

I imagine most people, including those closest to Him, thought things were pretty much as usual. Sure, they had hopes that Jesus would publicly declare Himself to be the Messiah and seize the throne. But things didn’t start off so well.

I mean, His first stop was the temple, as it so often was, where He once again kicked out the merchants and money changers. I suppose some people might have seen this as an act of defiance toward the powers that be, and perhaps a foreshadowing of the Messiah exercising His authority over the nation. I don’t know. Clearly the Pharisees saw His actions as unwelcome.

The thing that catches my attention most of all is the Passover meal Jesus shared with His disciples. In reality, Jesus should have been considered the guest of honor and treated with special respect. Instead, He played the role of host which involved washing the feet of the group. Tradition had the host arrange for the foot-washing when the guests arrived. After all, people mostly walked from place to place, but when they ate, they reclined. In other words, their feet could easily end up in someone else’s face.

At this meal, no one washed feet when they arrived. I don’t know what prompted Jesus to get up from the table and start washing feet. Maybe someone’s feet smelled, but I doubt it. I think He wanted to take the opportunity to teach one of the most important principles He wanted His men to learn: to love one another.

After all, they’d been arguing about who was the greatest and about who would sit on his left and His right hand. He wanted to give them a living example they would remember of selflessness: “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:13-14).

The fact that Jesus washed their feet is amazing enough, but when I realize that Judas was still with them and Jesus washed the feet of the very man who would sell Him out, seems shocking. Peter was there to, and before the night was out he’d swear he didn’t know Jesus. Of course, the rest weren’t much better: they all left Him when the mob came to arrest Him.

And Jesus knew those events would take place—the betrayal, the denial, the desertions. Yet He washed their feet.

John, at the beginning of his account of that last supper, included this statement, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1b).

His act of washing feet had to be an act of love. He was doing servants’ work. But who could miss His injunction to go and do likewise. I know some churches in the past took that idea literally and had feet-washing services.

I attended a few of those when I was growing up. The way it worked was like this: men went in one room and women in another. Then the people paired up. So one woman washed the feet of one other woman, and then they reversed the role.

Jesus washed the feet of twelve men.

I’m guessing they stayed reclined at the table while He moved from person to person. I wonder if any of them looked for another towel and tried to come alongside Him to get the job done. We certainly have no record of that, and I wonder why. Wouldn’t it have been shocking to see Jesus bending over those dirty, calloused feet, scrubbing away the road dirt, and drying them so they could continue their time around the table without irritating each other with the filth that did not belong at a meal. I can’t imagine all those guys just sitting there munching away at the Passover lamb while the Lamb of God did the work of a servant.

But that’s what He wanted to show them. I know some people mock the idea of servant leadership, but that’s precisely what Jesus modeled for us, and then commanded us to do.

Lots of people understand the verses in Philippians 2 about Christ’s humility, and they are very important.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

In reality, this simple act of washing the disciples’ feet fits in with those verses in a powerful way. Not only did Jesus give up the glory of heaven, come to earth as a man, and ultimately died the death we deserved—a huge sacrifice—He also did the small sacrifice, the private sacrifice behind closed doors, the act of service that demonstrated His love in the face of indifference, at best. Because clearly, none of those men cared enough to wash His feet.

It’s like a microcosm of His offer of salvation. He came to save even the people who nailed Him to the cross. In the face of their rejection—Pilate caring more about the approval of Caesar than true justice, the Jewish leaders concerned more about keeping Rome out of their business, the Roman centurions concerned more about doing what they were told, the people more concerned about their dashed hopes—Jesus offered forgiveness.

Just as He does today.

Published in: on March 27, 2018 at 5:35 pm  Comments (1)  
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Love In The Wake Of Another Shooting


Happy Valentine’s Day! Oh, and at least 17 people died today at a Florida high school because a shooter committed mass murder.

I think it’s time we stop treating love as if it is some trivial sentiment, some result of the sex drive, or some meaningless emotion expressed by tingles and butterflies in the stomach. Perhaps worse is the idea that God is love and by that statement the person means, God is ONLY love.

Sadly we have turned love into permissiveness and toleration, when, in fact, love is not that at all. We’ve even come up with the adjective tough to differentiate love that goes beyond the lenient, indulging, pandering kind we so often mean.

Fewer and fewer people in our society understand that “spoiling” a child is actually a bad thing, meaning we are doing damage, wrecking, ruining, destroying.

I’m not saying the Florida shooter was spoiled as a child—I don’t know anything about him. Except that clearly he has no understanding of love. He can’t love his family or the kids he once went to school with or the teachers, his community, state, country. He did a selfish, destructive, hurtful thing that has far reaching ramifications, and love was nowhere in his actions.

God’s love stands in stark contrast. He cleans up our messes, holds our hand through the valley of the shadow of death, and takes our punishment in His own body. He draws us, woos us, holds us, seals us. His love isn’t going to break down, and it isn’t going to let go.

There’s nothing trivial about God’s love. It sent Him to earth in a backwater town to an unwed mother where he was wrapped in cloths meant for a burial shroud and stuck in an animal feeding trough. And that was just the first few hours of his earthly existence. Things didn’t get noticeably better. But He came, lived, and died “for the joy set before Him.”

We’re that joy. Us, His people, whom He loved and determined to save.

I kind of think that’s the message we need to be teaching in our schools and churches, in homeless shelters and hospitals.

People are afraid and lonely and losing hope. We promise them falsely that this government program or that will solve the problem. If we just change marriage laws, allow whatever “loving” relationship a person wants, then we’ll all live happily ever after. But no amount of change in our outlook on “family” is reducing the growing problem of senseless shootings.

“It’s a mental health issue,” one commentator said. And maybe it is. Maybe all the shooters are simply mentally ill. But I think God loves the mentally ill, too. Jesus Christ died, even for the mentally ill. Shouldn’t we find a way to show the love of Christ to the most needy among us?

Of course, no one walks around with a sign that says, I’m a potential shooter because I’m mentally ill.

Rather, we’d actually have to take a risk and love someone we don’t necessarily find lovable.

Kids aren’t really in a position to do this, though they should start learning. Adults in the lives of troubled young people need to do this. But I don’t see it happening apart from God. It simply isn’t natural.

That’s why God’s love is so extraordinary. He loves us “while we were yet sinners.” He doesn’t demand we clean up first, meet His perfect standards, and then He will share His love with us.

On the contrary, He gives His love to us when we have done nothing to earn it. Because it’s a gift. I want to say, with God every day is Valentine’s Day. But His love goes beyond the hearts and flowers and special dinners. His love falls into that tough love category, so that what He gives us is what we actually need.

Sometimes that means a serious talking to or a time out or forty years in the wilderness. God knows. He’s not going to pander to us because He’s not going to do something now that will lead to our eternal destruction. Better to teach us, mold us, shape us in the image of Jesus Christ so that we can enjoy eternity with Him.

Of course some people ignore Him or actively push Him away. Those, He does what He so often did in the Old Testament—He gives them exactly what they want. Nothing could be sadder, because their end is destruction, their god is their appetite and their glory is in their shame. They simply set their minds on earthly things. And they miss the love God wants them to receive.

His love is so great because He knows us so well, because He’s invested in us to the point of going to the cross for us. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” and that’s precisely what He did.

God’s love is far from trivial, far from indulgent, far from silly and sentimental. His love is actually infinite. It’s complete. It’s life soaked in love.

Published in: on February 14, 2018 at 6:16 pm  Comments (22)  
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Mercy And Justice And George MacDonald—A Reprise


Some time ago one commenter left a link to a sermon George MacDonald is purported to have authored (I have yet to find mention of the source). The only Biblical text I found was Psalm 62:12, which states

And lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord, For You recompense a man according to his work.

In the King James, which the sermon quotes, lovingkindness is rendered mercy. The writer then makes a case for his interpretation of justice, leading to a denial of justice as punishment.

How odd this position seems to me, but perhaps that’s because I’ve had good Bible teaching all my life.

The cultures around Israel during King David’s time (Psalm 62 is one of his) did not practice justice. They practiced revenge. Consequently, the declaration that God would recompense a man according to his work was a statement of mercy. He would not punish a man for something his father did or punish the brothers or the children. God’s mercy was demonstrated in His justice, set in opposition to their vengeance.

How simple and straightforward. How righteous.

We are accountable before a Holy God for what we do. He does not pile on more than we deserve.

But here’s the thing. We are required by law to stop at stop signs. If I run a stop sign and get pulled over by a cop, I am guilty of breaking that law. No matter that I’ve not run a stop sign the prior 2000 times, or the 200 million times before that. Stopping at the stop sign is what I am required by law to do. Fulfilling my obligation does not earn me points against a future time when I might slip up and run the stop sign.

In other words, there is nothing I can do to make up for my situation. I can only recognize my condition—I am a lawbreaker deserving of the just (and merciful) penalty for my actions.

What great news, then, that Jesus, who was not a lawbreaker, and therefore, faced no penalty, stepped in to rescue sinners.

The amazing love of God is beyond comprehension here, because God did not wave His hand and dismiss my sin. He bore it Himself. He transferred my sin in the same way that the sins of Israel were transferred to scapegoats. It’s a mystical process, if you will, something that sounds too incredible, too hard to fathom. The Holy God, unstained in His being, complete in His purity, piled my sin on His shoulders. He bore my sin and carried my sorrow.

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
– I Peter 2:24

And in more detail from Isaiah

But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.
– Isa 53:10-12 [emphasis mine]

Paid in full. The blood of Jesus Christ blots out my sin. I receive God’s mercy when I understand that my work is insufficient to pay what I owe, that Christ alone could afford to bear my sin because He bore none of His own. The angel of death passes over me as surely as he once passed over the Jewish homes that bore the blood of the spotless Passover lamb slain on their behalf.

What a clear picture of God’s redemptive work—the marriage of His Justice and Mercy—prompted by His infinite Love.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in December 2010.

Published in: on January 26, 2018 at 5:52 pm  Comments Off on Mercy And Justice And George MacDonald—A Reprise  
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God Started It – Reprise


Nativity_Scenes004When I was growing up, my brother, sister, and I had . . . disagreements from time to time. We squabbled about silly things—whose turn it was to do the dishes, who got to sit in the front seat of the car (or if Mom and Dad said we all had to sit in the back, who got the window seats), what TV program to watch, who got the Sunday funnies first, who got to sit where at the dinner table—silly things.

Inevitably our disagreements would escalate, and Mom or Dad would intervene, scolding whoever had caught their attention. Just as sure was the response from whichever one of us was in the hot seat: But he started it! Or she. We were not the instigator. Ever. At least as we saw things.

In truth, there is one time when in fact that line is true. When it comes to our relating to God, He started it.

In the grandest scheme of things, of course, He started it because He started everything! But specifically in relating to Humankind after the first man and the first woman turned away from Him, He started it. And on a personal level, with me, He started it.

The grand scheme refers to the cosmos. God created. The specific dealing with humanity refers to God’s plan of salvation—sending His Son as the sacrifice to expiate our sins. The personal refers to His work to bring me to Himself.

At no time did I or anyone else initiate with God.

He started everything by making Man in His image, after His likeness. Like any child, Adam was helpless when it came to deciding what color hair he’d have or how tall he’d be or how smart he was. He didn’t decide to be like God, with a will and emotions, with the capacity to create and to communicate. It was God who wanted us to be like Him, and so He made us.

It was also God who loved the world, who determined to love us while we were yet sinners, who chose to express His love by His actions. He gave His Son, and His Son died that He might cancel out the certificate of debt we each owed.

And speaking of “each,” God chose me, called me, rescued me. It’s very personal—not some generic salvation, as if he tossed his net into the sea of humanity and scooped up the ones who couldn’t get away, so I was caught along with a myriad of others.

The point is, I wouldn’t be here, there wouldn’t be a Church of which I am a part, and I wouldn’t be His child if it weren’t for the fact that God started it. John said it plainly in his first letter: “We love Him, because He first loved us” (KJV, 1 John 4:19).

Paul spelled out God’s initiating activity more fully. First our condition:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Eph. 2:1-3)

Pretty hopeless—if God didn’t enter the picture. There was no way for dead people to be made alive without a miracle. There’s no way for sons of disobedience to become righteous and holy, apart from God transforming our lives. There was no way for children of wrath to become children of peace and reconciliation except by the power of God to cause us to be born again.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Eph. 2:4-10, emphasis added)

Love is the fourth and final quality our church is emphasizing as part of the Advent season, and certainly love seems to be a part of Christmas. We are reminded of the love of our families—some traveling many miles in order to have a few days together with loved ones; most spend hundreds of dollars and precious hours shopping in order to give gifts to those we love.

We even include a “love” tradition—the hanging of mistletoe—as part of our Christmas celebration. And the holidays aren’t complete without at least one Christmas romantic comedy or classic story with romance.

Then when we look at the events of that first Christmas, we’re aware of Mary’s love for her newborn child, of Joseph’s love for his little family, of the wisemen’s love and devotion that took them far from home to worship the king.

But none of it would have happened if God hadn’t started it. He formulated the plan before the foundations of the earth, Peter said:

you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18b-20)

And Paul verifies the plan:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:4-6).

There was no salvation until the kindness of God and His love for mankind appeared. There were no deeds we could do to earn a righteous standing with God. The great change from dead men walking to alive in Christ came because God started it. And He did so as an expression of His great love.

This post first appeared here in December 2014.

Published in: on December 19, 2017 at 4:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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The God Who Spanks


In my lifetime the US has moved from being a culture that believed in corporal punishment for children to one that looks with serious mistrust at anyone who would lay a finger on a child to discipline him or her.

At the same time, we’ve moved away from God, and in particular we’ve moved away from belief in God as a just and righteous judge who also disciplines for our good. He is actually our loving heavenly Father and yet He disciplines His children for our good.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,
NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;
FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Heb. 12:3-11)

In some ways I feel like I should bring this post to a close with an Amen and a period. Another part of me wants to launch into the positive effects of discipline on children and the Biblical admonition to parents not to neglect the same.

But the real issue, I think, is that we as a culture no longer like a God who judges, who disciplines.

Recently I’ve seen various people respond to portions of Scripture that identify God as a judge, as a God who brings upon an oppressor the consequences of his own acts. The best I can say is, people—Christians—are uncomfortable with it. In one instance, a person ignored the point of the passage and turned it into something that was not there, something related to God’s forgiveness.

God is forgiving. We can never forget that. But one way He brings us to a place where we ask for forgiveness is by applying the rod of correction to our derrieres. God lovingly, kindly, and with our good at heart, allows us to suffer the consequences of our own actions.

Why? Why would He not rescue us from all trouble, even the trouble of our own making?

Because God has greater things in mind for us than our immediate comfort and ease. God wants good things for us, no doubt. But the highest good is that we become conformed to the image of His Son. That’s what Romans 8:29 tells us: “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (emphasis mine).

“Become conformed.” How does that happen?

The same way silver or gold is refined—by the application of heat. The same way an orange tree produces abundant fruit—by being pruned.

God disciplines, not because He’s angry or wrathful, out of control and intolerant of those who don’t see things His way.

He disciplines because He loves us. He knows what we sometimes ignore or can’t see—that our wayward path leads to death. That we’re headed for destruction.

What kind of parent would allow his child to sit down with a knife beside an electric outlet? Or unsupervised, play with a pile of matches?

We would consider parents that turn away from danger and let their kids “learn the hard way,” neglectful and even abusive.

The great danger before us as humans is what is ahead of us in eternity. The fire we want to play with is the fire of hell. God in his great love calls us to Himself. When we turn away, He pursues us and disciplines us and judges us so that we will know Him. So that we will turn from our wicked ways, see Him as the Savior our hearts long for, and call to Him in repentance and trust.

Yes, God spanks. But like all loving fathers, He also holds us as we cry against His shoulder, as we tell Him we’re sorry and that we will amend our ways.

He spanks and He comforts because He wants us to grow up to be like Jesus.

Published in: on March 22, 2017 at 5:53 pm  Comments (7)  
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